Urinary tract infection (UTI): Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Dr. Sneha Ganatra
November 02, 2020

Infections are part and parcel of everyday life and among the more common ones is the urinary tract infection (UTI). According to experts, when it comes developing a urinary tract infection, women are at a higher risk, especially in the reproductive or post-menopause stages. In fact, some believe 1 in 2 women are likely to have a UTI at least once in a lifetime, whereas for men, there’s about a 1 in 10 chance. Given how common UTIs are, it is in your best interest to know how to identify the different types of urinary tract infections.

There 3 main types of UTIs and they are:

  • Urethritis: Infection in the urethra that can cause a burning sensation when urinating
  • Pyelonephritis: Infection in the kidneys that can cause pain in the upper back, fevers and chills
  • Cystitis: Infection in the bladder that can cause pain when urinating and even lead to bloody urine

As you can see, these infections affect different parts of the urinary tract and generally show more serious signs if they progresses untreated. To truly understand how serious a UTI can get, it helps to know all you can about the infection. This is especially important because anyone can develop a UTI and being informed can push you to get an early diagnosis and treatment before any serious complications. To that end, here’s all you need to know about urinary tract infections.

Causes of a urinary tract infection

Given that UTI is an infection, there are numerous factors that can cause such a problem. Among them is a suppressed or weakened immune system and this is why there’s a high risk of a urinary tract infection in children or the elderly. As for the other factors, these are the 6 main causes you should know of.

  1. Anatomical abnormalities
    Structural abnormalities in the urinary tract that first show up at an early stage can serve as a cause for UTIs. These are existent in children and in some cases, adults too. A good example of such an abnormality within the urinary tract is a bladder diverticulum. Diverticula are pouches in the bladder wall, and these can store bacteria in the bladder and lead to UTIs.
  2. Birth control
    It was found that certain types of birth control mechanisms increased the risk of persons developing a UTI. For instance, women who used a diaphragm were at a higher risk as well those who used condoms with spermicidal foam or other forms of spermicides.
  3. Menopause
    Owing to the decline in estrogenic circulation through the body and the subsequent changes in urinary tract, women who are in menopause are more vulnerable to UTIs.
  4. Catheter use or medical procedures
    Prolonged use of a catheter due to neurological problems, paralysis, or hospitalisation increases the risk of one developing a UTI. This is also the case with urinary tract exams or medical procedures that use medical instruments.
  5. Sexual activity
    Those who are sexually active have a higher chance of getting a UTI. This is especially pertinent to those with new sexual partners as it increases the risk of infection.
  6. Poor hygiene
    Improper hygiene, especially around the genitals, is also a cause of this infection. This is especially true for women as the urethra is close to anus, from which the E. Coli bacteria in the large intestine can get out. So, if proper hygiene isn’t maintained, this bacteria can travel through the urethra and into the bladder and lastly, the kidneys.

Besides these, there are several factors that increase the risk of developing a UTI. They are as follows.

  • Pregnancy
  • Bowel incontinence
  • Immobility for extended periods of time
  • Difficulty emptying the bladder
  • Kidney stones
  • Certain antibiotics

Symptoms of a UTI

When it comes to the symptoms of a urinary tract infection, men and women have many similarities. However, based on whether it is an upper or lower urinary tract infection, the symptoms differ. For men and women, here are the common symptoms of a UTI.

Upper tract urinary infection symptoms

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Pain in the upper back

Lower tract urinary infection symptoms

  • Cloudy or bloody urine
  • Burning sensation when urinating
  • Passing urine of strong odour
  • Passing urine of a darker colour
  • Increase need and urgency to urinate

For men with a lower tract urinary infection, another symptom is rectal pain. For women with a lower tract urinary infection, pelvic pain is also expected.

Treatment for UTIs

For a urinary tract infection, antibiotics are only administered to those in whom the infection is caused by bacteria. This is known only after diagnosis and testing, which is why you should prioritise healthcare rather than home remedies. In some cases, the infection can be caused by a virus or a fungus. With such a urinary tract infection, medicine is usually either an antiviral or antifungal. However, whatever the cause, UTIs should never go untreated as they can bring on adverse health complications.

In some cases, upper tract urinary infections can become life threatening after they enter the blood. Here, one may experience dangerously low blood pressure, shock, and even death.

Tips to help prevent UTIs

Adhere to these helpful tips to keep UTIs at bay.

  • Do not hold urine in for long periods of time
  • Drink enough water, usually 6 to 8 glasses a day
  • As a woman, wipe after urination using a front-to-back motion only
  • Urinate after sexual intercourse to flush out bacteria
  • Empty your bladder fully when urinating and avoid rushing
  • Keep genitals dry and avoid wearing nylon underwear as they trap moisture

Arming yourself with this information about UTIs helps you protect yourself from developing complicated illnesses in the long run. Knowing what to look for or being able to identify a factor that may be a potential cause for a UTI is immensely helpful, especially for the elderly or the very young. However, UTIs are quite common, especially amongst women and the best way to deal with an infection is to get medical care immediately. Here, the family primary care provider or a specialist like an OBGYN can address these symptoms with ease. Keep in mind that UTIs in men are generally regarded as complicated. So, it is best to get regular check-ups.

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